Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, appears to have opted to visit a potato farm instead of meeting Mike Pompeo when the US Secretary of State was in Pyongyang over the weekend for the latest round of discussions on the future of the Korean Peninsula.
Mr Pompeo arrived in the North Korean capital on July 6 – but his three-day visit was ignored by the North Korean dictator.
Mr Pompeo’s aides were largely kept in the dark about the schedule for the visit, including where they would be staying, and repeated requests about when the secretary of state would be able to meet Mr Kim went unanswered.
Instead, he held talks with Kim Yong-chol, a general and member of the central committee of the Workers’ Party who is widely seen as Mr Kim’s right-hand man.
Mr Pompeo’s remarks during the discussions did not please the North Korean side, however, with the Foreign Ministry quoted as describing Washington’s demands for complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea as “gangster-like”.
The North Korean leader’s whereabouts were only revealed on Tuesday when state-run media ran a series of articles about his visit to provide “field guidance” to workers at the Junghung potato farm in distant Samjiyon County, on the border with China.
Mr Kim told workers to only plant high-yield varieties, the Korean Central News Agency reported, and to “introduce various species that taste good and to ensure the quality of processed potato-based foods”.
He also described the district as the “sacred land of the revolution”. Samjiyon County is close to Mount Paektu, a dormant volcano that has been co-opted by the regime to serve as a symbol of the ruling Kim dynasty.
According to official accounts, Kim Jong-il, the second leader of the nation and Mr Kim’s father, was born in a hut on the flanks of the mountain while his father, Kim Il-sung, lead partisan attacks against the occupying Japanese. Other records indicate he was born in a refugee camp in eastern Russia.
As well as a deliberate snub to Mr Pompeo, Mr Kim’s visit was significant because he chose to demonstrate North Korea’s resilience in the face of US-led sanctions on his regime. Equally, he chose to visit an area adjacent to China, which once again appears to be extending economic support to Pyongyang.